Judy Gold

Chutzpah! Festival, Vancouver’s multi-disciplinary performing arts extravaganza, is back in full swing for its 14th year. For modern English speakers, the term “chutzpah” carries a meaning synonymous to “courage” or “mettle” but in traditional Hebrew it has a negative connotation, describing someone who has audaciously flaunted the boundaries of acceptable behaviour.

25 Questions for a Jewish Mother, a collaborative one-woman play co-written by Emmy-award winning comedienne Judy Gold and American playwright Kate Moira Ryan embodies plenty of chutzpah in both senses of the word.

The Vancouver Playhouse has hosted multitudes of large scale performances including dance, choir, and musicals. Such a spacious space could dwarf any individual presenting a one-person performance with only a single chair and a mike as props. However, Gold manages to command the stage with her resounding voice and imposing statuesque presence at six feet, three inches. She emphasizes that she is not the typical representation of most Jewish mothers.

She has set out two goals for herself: to never be like her own vociferous mother and to find out whether there are other mold-shattering Jewish mothers out there.

To accomplish this, Gold and Ryan interviewed Jewish mothers across America from all walks of life. These women were all asked the same series of questions such as “How are Jewish mothers different from other Jewish mothers?” and “Who is your favorite Jewish mother?” The answers ranged from ludicrous to grievous to heart rending.

Equal parts touching monologue, stand-up comedy, and character impersonation, the play is a result of those 50+ interviews juxtaposed with revelations about Gold’s own relationships with her impervious mother and her lesbian partner, Wendy.

Judy Gold

Gold shifts amongst all three genres with flawless comedic coordination and polished precision. Her sizzling stand-up is delivered with an in-your-face urgency and rigorous punch lines. While she embodies each persona vividly, her impression of the elder Mrs. Gold creates a larger-than-life caricature who is both imposing and endearing.

By the end of the show, the audience comes to realize that Judy is not as different from her mother as she strives to be. The ultimate message may be that the struggle for acceptance of one’s beliefs and how we choose to manifest them are universal.

Not coming from a Jewish background, my exposure to the traditions and references are limited to stereotypes popularized by Shakespeare or Seinfeld. While Gold relentlessly ridicules these, I grappled with the plentiful inside jokes that made the audience explode in raucous laughter. Fortunately, I brought along a companion who was able to explain these to me after the show. She was able to connect with and appreciate the subject matter more than I was capable of.

Regardless of your cultural background, the Chutzpah! Festival offers an opportunity to explore a multitude of exciting performances, running through March 9. Look for my upcoming Chutzpah! Fest review of Alon Nashman and Paul Thompson’s Hirsch, starting tonight at the Firehall Arts Centre and continuing through March 1.

Photos by Leslie Bohm.

About Our Contributor Cora Li

Cora Li

Cora dabbles in arts, technology, food, and travel. She loves that Vancouver offers a vast playground for exploring all of her passions. Cora’s most memorable job to date was working with VANOC during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

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